Retail Marketing|Thought Leadership|Trends|

From down and out to up and outside, retailers are striving to find the best, post-pandemic balance to boost customer experience. 

It’s hard to offer consumers the best of both worlds, the “bricks & clicks” of shopping, especially during a global pandemic, but retailers, like before 2020, are challenged to balance and better their in-store and online offerings. Customers have always demanded speed and convenience, but how much has the social and experiential component changed in the last year and a half and how will that affect future CX strategy for retail companies?

The retail industry has been drastically disrupted by e-commerce, everyone knows. After much anguish, the sector seemed to have found new, solid footing with its experiential focus. As Shopping Center Business put it, “centers that created the right formula of fun, fashion and food were packed. It was all going so well until 2020.”

Something good always seems to come from something bad, the saying goes. In a retail industry where you must know how to adjust to adversity, those strong adaptive instincts and abilities can lead to better solutions, if not breakthroughs. During COVID-19, consumers appreciated the increased digital engagement from brands and, not surprisingly, wanted it to continue.

Customers found digital communications during the pandemic to be fast and convenient, and most don’t want brands to scale back on digital customer experience initiatives in a post-COVID world, reported Chain Store Age, citing a five-country survey that included the U.S. The poll showed that 56 percent of respondents worried that brands may not maintain the level of effort in improving digital customer experience once the pandemic has ended, and 59 percent said their expectations for how brands interact and communicate with them will continue to rise post-pandemic. Nearly four out of every five respondents (78 percent) said those expectations rose during COVID-19.

According to CSA’s reporting, the top four customer experience values that will endure long after the pandemic are: message delivery speed (average 92 percent respondent agreement); response times (89 percent, tops in the U.S.); flexibility with customer requests (88 percent); and brands showing customers they care (85 percent), a very important connection discussed recently in this space.

We know that America is a consuming country, where volume and repeat business respond to speed and convenience, but we need the entertainment and socialization aspects of shopping as well, especially after the shut-down and socially distant adversity of 2020.

Just like consumers embrace having more options, flexibility has been crucial for retailers and restaurants adapting to the pandemic. Open space and alfresco dining options have been key since COVID-19 hit, while social media and other technology can facilitate a new chapter in social interaction. A Southern California architect told SCB that he sees the trend manifesting itself in pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and the embracing of “the car culture consumers relied on during the pandemic: more drive-in experiences, including food and beverage service, concerts and movies.”

Oftentimes advancing retail brands is more about adapting. Companies should maintain their increased, post-pandemic digital engagement while providing the fresh touch of open-air, experiential options. Through thick and thin, retailers and restaurants that strategically drill down to the most effective and innovative tactics will successfully elevate CX.

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